WASHINGTON - The Justice Department asked a federal appeals court on Friday to overturn a judge's appointment of an independent arbiter to review documents seized during an FBI search of former President Donald Trump's Florida estate.
The appeal is the latest salvo in weeks of litigation over the scope of duties of the arbiter, also known as a special master. He was assigned last month by a judge to inspect the thousands of records taken in the Aug. 8 search of Mar-a-Lago and weed out from the investigation any that may be protected by claims of legal privilege.
The special master process has caused some delays to the Justice Department’s investigation into the storage of top-secret documents at the home. But a major hurdle was cleared last month when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit lifted a temporary bar on the department’s ability to use the seized classified documents as part of its criminal probe.
FILE - In this aerial view, former U.S. President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate is seen on Sept. 14, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
The move permitted a core aspect of the probe to resume, greatly reducing the chances that the special master process could have a significant impact on the investigation. But department lawyers returned to the court Friday to ask for the entire special master review to be shut down, saying the judge who made the appointment had no basis for doing so and Trump was not entitled to an independent review of the seized records or to claim privilege over them.
"Plaintiff has no plausible claim of executive privilege as to any of the seized materials and no plausible claim of personal attorney-client privilege as to the seized government records — including all records bearing classification markings," according to the department's brief.
"Accordingly," they added, "the special-master review process is unwarranted."